This posting considers a:
Januik 2004 Merlot ($25) and a
Leonetti Cellar 1998 Merlot ($100).
You can probably guess the idea behind this particular comparison: is it worth spending four times as much money for a Washington State merlot?
Here’s the quick bottom line: not in this case.
These two wines were blind-tasted during the course of one dinner by a six-person panel. Except for me, no one knew what kind of wines they were or how much these wines cost. I didn’t know which was which during the course of consuming them.
At the end of the dinner, we took a vote. The winner was the Leonetti by a score of 5 to 1.
I then revealed the prices and the panelists were shocked. No one thought the Leonetti was worth even twice as much as the Januik much less four times as much. Most of the panelists said four bottles of the Januik would be far preferable to one bottle of the Leonetti and the one panelist who didn’t care for the Januik said she certainly wouldn’t spend $100 on the Leonetti.
“I’m surprised by the price difference because I liked them both very much,” one panelists said. “I just don’t think that there’s any relationship between price and quality in this instance,” he added.
“I though they were both wonderful,” another panelist said.
The Leonetti was six years older than the Januik and not surprisingly, somewhat smoother as a result. This difference was particularly important to one of the six panelists.
“I thought the Januik was rough and I didn’t like it,” she said. This panelist described the Leonetti as “kind of mellow and balanced.”
These two offerings looked different in the glass. The Januik had a slight brownish tinge while the Leonetti was just a bit purplish.
Neither of these wines had a particularly pronounced or notable bouquet. That of the Januik was a bit fruiter, which wasn’t surprising given its younger age.
Neither of these wines had any harsh tannins, which squares with what one would generally expect from a merlot. As for acidity, that of the Januik was a bit more pronounced, especially in the finish. In contrast, the Leonetti came across as mild and soft.
On the palate, flavors associated with oak were more pronounced in the Leonetti. Fruit flavors were more prominent in the younger Januik.
The finish of both wines was very nice with that of the Januik again being slightly fruiter.
One panelist who liked the Leonetti best said thought it had a bit of cedar in the nose and that overall, it was the better balanced and more complex wine of the two.
A second panelist also called the Leonetti “more interesting and more complex,” but at the same time, this panelist said she had “no problem” with the Januik. The Januik, she said, “is a more classic merlot – easy to drink and more true to type.”
So who was the one panelist who voted in favor of the Januik? That was me. I liked the fresher, less oaky quality of that wine.
Leonetti Cellar is a label of Figgins Family Wine Estates, of Walla Walla, Washington. When Leonetti got started over 30 years ago, it was the only winery in Walla Walla (there are now over 100) and for many years, demand exceeded supply, driving up prices. One definitely pays a “name premium” for this wine, which may well decline in the future. There is far more competition Washington’s premium wine market at present than was the case even 10 years ago.
Januik Winery, which is located in Woodinville, Washington (just outside of Seattle), is owned by Michael Januik, another one of Washington’s most experienced winemakers. He was head winemaker at Chateau Ste. Michelle, Washington’s largest winemaking operation, for ten years before starting his own winery.